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Creative Scotland and Moore shows how deep is the ‘IMF of the Mind’

Both Creative Scotland’s decision to further marketise the arts in Scotland and Michael Moore’s assumption that lack of neoliberal support for the Yes campaign is a weakness show how much the political mind remains captured. You don’t have to support the Yes campaign to take heart in an alternative voice.

In a wonderful article in the Scotsman (25 May – weblink on the Scotsman site is down for some reason) Joyce McMillan takes apart the latest Creative Scotland structural changes to its grants programme. There is lots in this article that we should listen to (and no point more important than to remember just how minor a part of Scottish political life arts and culture have become) but one phrase jumped out at me today; “a half-baked, hollowed-out, public-sector version of market theory that reduces the language of creativity to a series of flat-footed business school slogans, and imposes a crude ethic of sado-competition”. As succinct a description of the processes of Scottish government (lower case) as I’ve read. And it found another echo in comments from the No campaign.

The leaders of the No campaign (on this occasion, Michael Moore) are punting the idea to people that there just weren’t enough business leaders at the Yes campaign launch, in some way proving that it is ‘wrong’. This isn’t about independence or unionism, this is about political ideology. It is still the fundamental view of those in and around power that legitimacy comes only from a bastardised version of the ‘business school mentality’ that passes for the ‘Big Idea’ of our age. And it is complete rubbish.

To understand just how daft this has become it is worth remembering where the business schools themselves came from. On the one hand, in the US a group of more-or-less far-right political theorists started to create an ideology of the complete supremacy of the free market. This was to be to all human existence what Einstein’s Unified Force Theory was to be to all physical existence – a single, simple, elegant formula that would unite and unify all that we knew. Except (a) Einstein spent his whole life trying and eventually concluded that it might not be possible and (b) the physical world is stable, barely changing at all in any time frame we can understand while humans and humankind changes in the blink of an eye. The idea that the motivations of free markets was a single mechanism for understanding society was the preserve (at first) of a group of people whose personal psychology tended strongly towards what we would probably today understand as the autism spectrum.

In parallel, in the UK we went in for a process of greatly expanding participation in higher education. But this was started under Thatcher and followed a close ideological presumption – that this was about expanding employment opportunities to a wider range of people (it wasn’t fundamentally about education). So the universities invented a discipline that prior to that didn’t exist – business studies. I have always had severe reservations about business studies, a course I consider to be a marketing trick for first-generation students scared about the apparent risk of spending four years studying. ‘OK’, they were supposed to think, ‘I’ll go to university, but what will get me a job?’. With about the same subtlety with which ‘Labour’ stuck ‘New’ in front of its name, they jus put the word ‘business’ in the title and assumed those who knew no better would flock. They might as well have called it ‘personal enrichment studies’ for the sake of the crude message being pushed towards people who did not have parents to advise them on what course they might actually find interesting.

And flock they did – business studies is by far and away the largest subject now studied in Scottish universities. And to my eye it has never actually managed to be a real subject. We teach at Honours what is really an Ordinary degree, with a bit of first-year economics, a bit of first-year industrial sociology, a bit of first-year psychology and so on wrapped up into a degree. I have never believed the intellectual content was there and it seems to me to be little more than a codification of The Apprentice in which you get a certificate.

Why is this bothering me today? Because (to use Joyce’s description) it really has infected everything. Administrators everywhere throw business-school slogans at everything. Life has become a flurry of Powerpoint presentations in which endless (and endlessly macho) nouns and verbs rub up against each other to create a kind of static electricity of apparent competence. ‘Sharper, stronger, bigger, more powerful, competitive, lean, smart, success’. And the Harvard School of neoliberal economics shaped the whole world.

So things are now sharper, stronger, bigger, leaner, smarter and more successful, right? Not exactly. The business school advocates have jumped with vigour on the fact that the Eurozone crisis is (at last – thank the gods!) a crisis not wholly caused by financial markets. Except, it is. It is the application of the business school mentality to the running of Western governments that caused them to believe that models and markets trumped things and people. But millions and millions of pounds are being spent to make sure this lesson isn’t learned.

So it is that Creative Scotland has become a sort-of cultural IMF, imposing its own narrow conception of what ‘creativity’ means and how pesky artists can be made more like those handsome business types. Meanwhile Scotland is assured that its future can only be guaranteed if it is endorsed by the business school set. Just for clarity, that’s the people who created the economic armageddon the world (and right now especially Europe) is suffering.

At some point soon we will realise once and for all that the theory was wrong from the start. It was predicated on a fundamental truth that was never true, that markets are clever and that they can’t be subverted. Of course, markets are in fact very dumb in many ways and they are a doodle to subvert. In fact, 21st century capitalism so far has been a history of market subversion – first by the financiers who created complex equations to prove markets (and indeed governments) were financially viable when they weren’t, then by the financiers who socialised all of their failure and asked the state to prop up the markets. And still we’re listening to them?

This is just IMF of the Mind, ideology manufactured by a global interest group which wants to keep control of everything, forever. Michael Moore is signed up. Creative Scotland is signed up. The business schools continue to do a roaring trade (Cameron keeps funding them where he has cut all the money from the arts and humanities which caused no-one poverty). We still pretend ratings agencies, the IMF and the stock markets have the answers, even as we know they don’t and that their last lot of ideas got us into this mess in the first place.

So while the Reid Foundation continues to remaining neutral on the constitutional issue, still there has to be something to be said for the launch of the Yes campaign. At least it wasn’t predicated in whole on the confident certainties of the business schools, certainties which turn out to be wrong. Just artists, trade unionists, greens, lefties and small businesses? People who see that as a weakness need to look at where we are now and think again.

Robin McAlpine